Staking out a spot

Camping overnight along the route can be more fun than the Rose Parade itself 

By Justin Chapman Pasadena Weekly, 12/26/2013

Those who brave the cold and the dead of night on the streets on New Year’s Eve are witnesses and participants in a rare spectacle in Pasadena: sleeping overnight along the Rose Parade route. As you’ll find out if you dare to join the ranks this Tuesday night, camping on the route is about much more than securing top notch seats for the annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Indeed, overnighting is a unique and exciting event in and of itself.   
The Tournament of Roses is expecting about 750,000 people to turn out New Year’s Day to watch the floats, bands and equestrian groups march the 5.5-mile route through the city, starting from Ellis Street and Orange Grove Boulevard, stretching along Colorado Boulevard, turning up Sierra Madre Boulevard and ending at Victory Park.
Crisscrossing the city, hundreds of thousands of people set up blankets, sleeping bags, coolers, tables, chairs, barbeque grills, fire pits (in fire-safe containers which are one foot off the ground and 25 feet from buildings) and more. There is a sense of saturnalia in which everyone lets go of their inhibitions for the sake of having a good time. Cars that dare drive down Colorado get covered in eggs, total strangers come together to share food or play football in the street, music permeates the air and there’s an unmatched thrill of counting down to midnight along with hordes of people.
Chris Johnson, who now resides in Riverside, for years slept over with his friend’s family on Colorado. They, like a lot of other people, would go to the route a day in advance to get their spots. Members of the family would take shifts saving the spot. The city lets people claim a sidewalk viewing space along the route starting at noon the day before the parade. According to Lt. Tracey Ibarra of the Pasadena Police Department, at least one person must remain with their chairs at all times to reserve their spot.
“It would get a little hectic because there are always people out there saving spots for others so sometimes it would be hard to find a spot,” said Johnson. “There are no protocols for getting a spot. No communication with the city needed. Basically you go and find what you can.”
Johnson saw some crazy things on the route that he said he will always remember, such as being randomly egged by complete strangers, a rare occasion any other day of the year in any other city.
“Someone shot some pink liquid out of a super soaker from a car once,” said Johnson. “After awhile whatever this liquid was started to burn a little bit. Fights broke out down the street, but people also came together and after the streets were closed to vehicles I remember playing in a football game with a lot of people. We also had fun with the cars that went by us as we sat out on the sidewalk. People would buy marshmallows and throw them from their cars at people and we would throw them back. It was all great fun, but as the years went by the cops did get stricter. The first two years they allowed the throwing of marshmallows but the third year they said if they caught us doing any of that they would take our seats and we would have to leave.”
Indeed this year the police will be cracking down on silly string, fireworks and throwing any items at another person or vehicle.
“Most people don’t think it’s harmful to throw certain things, but getting a tortilla in the face while you’re driving can be quite distracting,” said Ibarra.
A combination of Pasadena police officers along with other local, state and federal authorities will be patrolling the route that night and during the actual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl college football game.
Pasadena resident Paul Stabile Jr. and his family and friends have been staking out their spot across the street from a friend’s house on Sierra Madre Boulevard for about 20 years. He’s been doing it so long he doesn’t remember exactly when they started. As for the police being strict, he said it’s hit or miss.
“It comes and goes,” he said. “Some years they’re strict, some years you don’t even see them.”
Though he said it’s become a little tamer over the years because there aren’t as many people flinging stuff around, he has fond memories of incidents you won’t see anywhere else.
“One year a city bus stopped so the driver could yell at some kids because he was pissed they were throwing marshmallows at his bus,” said Stabile. “Then we pretended like we were throwing marshmallows at his bus, so he reversed and yelled at us. That was a pretty good one. One parade day we saw two police motorcycles run into each other and fall over.”
But of course there is still plenty of fun to be had.
“My favorite part of spending the night at the Rose Parade route was hanging out with friends and meeting new people,” said Johnson. “Having that many people on the street spending time together and celebrating the New Year was an amazing experience that I will never forget.”